Music hath power for one and all

"If you stay within the classroom, within the protective environment of the place of study, the real basic meaning of music, of playing music is lost."

Musethica performers play for a group of disabled children as part of their activities (photo credit: COURTESY MUSETHICA)
Musethica performers play for a group of disabled children as part of their activities
(photo credit: COURTESY MUSETHICA)
In the first act of his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride, English playwright William Congreve sagely noted the psychological, botanical and geological attributes of music: “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
Around three centuries later, American rock pianist-vocalist Billy Joel mused that: “music in itself is healing.
It’s an explosive expression of humanity.
It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” Joel could have added that socioeconomic baggage is no barrier to appreciating earnest sonic creativity, either.
That is something of which Roi Shiloah is well aware, and the internationally acclaimed classical violinist is more than happy to proffer his talents to a wide range of audiences who are not generally thought of as fitting in the classical music consumer niche.
Forty-five-year-old Shiloah and several other stellar musicians have joined forces with the intent of providing people of differing backgrounds, creeds, age groups and station in life with top quality entertainment, and bringing it right to their doorstep, under the auspices of Musethica.
Musethica is a nonprofit organization active in seven countries worldwide, including Germany, Israel, Spain and China. The venture educates young musicians to the highest level of execution by pairing them with more senior professionals and offering them the opportunity to play in public to audiences for whom they would not normally expect to perform, and in unconventional venues.
The Musethica concept was conceived in 2009 by Berlin-based Israeli viola player Avri Levitan. Musethica set out its first stall in Zaragoza, Spain, in 2012 under the auspices of Prof. Carmen Marcuello, a social economics lecturer at the local university. Together with Shiloah and former America Israel Cultural Foundation head and flutist Orit Naor, Levitan has introduced thousands of Israelis from all walks of life and sectors of society to the fun, magic and curative powers of classical music.
Shiloah will be kept gainfully occupied from October 16 to 25, when the second Musethica International Chamber Music Festival Israel takes place up and down the country. The violinist will perform together with such leading purveyors of classical musical as Russian- born Swiss-based Israeli violinist Sergei Ostrovsky, Levitan and Swiss cellist Orfeo Mandozzi, at the Beersheba Conservatory Auditorium (October 21) and at the Israeli Conservatory of Music (October 23-24).
The seasoned professionals will be joined by a select quartet of gifted youngsters, three of whom are currently in the IDF. The foursome includes violinists Tal First and Anna Sigreich, viola player Yoav Yatskan and cellist Uriah Tutter. All told, 11 young musicians will strut their developing stuff during the course of the festival, with one Swiss, one Swedish and two Spanish students also in the lineup.
The confluence of experienced performers and relative neophytes, in fact, lies at the heart of the original Musethica mind-set. “It is important to note that Musethica did not start out as a charity program,” says Shiloah. “It began with the intention of enabling students to gain as much experience as possible of performing for the public.” The idea was to get the juniors out of the classroom cocoon and throw them in at the deep end. “We wanted to expose the students to real life, outside the four walls of the academy,” continues Shiloah. “If you stay within the classroom, within the protective environment of the place of study, the real basic meaning of music, of playing music is lost.”
Levitan and the rest of the Musethica entrepreneurs were not looking just to offer promising disciples the chance of gaining some valuable street-level exposure.
They wanted them to encounter unusual, and often challenging, environments that would broaden not only their mastery of the instrument, but also bring them face-to-face with the nitty-gritty of life. While they were at it, they could do a good turn or two as well.
Levitan, Marcuello and the others envisaged the mutual benefits to be had from performing music of the highest quality for a broad range of people for whom experiencing a classical music concert for the very first time could open a door to a hitherto closed and unattainable world of sounds and emotions.
Over the past 18 months or so Levitan, Shiloah and a host of other top musicians from here and abroad, along with some of the most promising budding professionals in the country, have put on dozens of shows here for senior citizens, autistic children, factory workers, hospital patients and even prison inmates.
Orit Naor is not only a professional flutist and educator, she is also one of the movers and shakers behind the Israeli branch of Musethica, which was established in March 2014. She says the global efforts of the organization are constantly breaking new ground, and the same goes for the Israeli branch.
“Last year, I attended a concert by a quintet of ours at Ma’asiyahu Prison. It was one of the most moving concerts I have ever been to.”
Naor says the proof of the pudding was right there for everyone to see and hear. “There were around 200 inmates at the concert and you could have heard a pin drop. They were incredibly attentive to the music.” One might be forgiven for being surprised at the enthusiastic response elicited from prison inmates by classical works, but Naor says the members of the audience were spellbound. “They applauded loudly at the end and didn’t want to leave even after the encore.
We were told that they get all sorts of live entertainment at the prison, such as stand-up comedians, but then you have people going to and fro, going out for a smoke, chatting, and that sort of thing. There was none of that at the Musethica concert. There was a long Q&A session after the concert.
You could really see the wonderful effect the music had on the prison inmates, and the vast majority of them were never exposed to classical music before they went into prison.”
That, says Naor in a nutshell, is the magic of the Musethica venture. “This is about being open to other ideas, about dialogue, about the values of chamber music and also of a healthy society. I see Musethica as a program of connecting, between all kinds of sectors of the public, and connecting with groups in society which, unfortunately, receive less attention.”
There is the remedial element of music, noted by Congreve so many moons ago. “Music has strong therapeutic power, but I think it is a two-way street,” Naor continues. “The members of the audience enjoy the music, but the musicians also get so much in return.”
Naor’s supposition has been backed by hardened professionals, too. “We gave a concert in the north of the country, at a medical center for mentally frail people; after the concert, a doctor came up to me and said that he and his fellow professionals are still searching for a drug that can do what music gives the patients. When we gave a performance at a facility for young adults with Down Syndrome, the audience got up and started dancing to works by Mozart and Handel. That was very moving.”
With her rich musical pedigree, Naor is in a position to gauge the rewards gleaned by the young musicians on the Musethica program. “I can say, unequivocally, that the atmosphere at the various venues, and the attentiveness of the members of the audience, also have a profound effect on the quality of the musicians’ playing. I can tell you that there is something in the interface that is just so right. We give and get in equal amounts. This is a program of bonding, and it is wonderful to see and feel.” 
For tickets and more information: Beersheba, (08) 629-0008; Tel Aviv, (03) 546-6228; and